Paassionate & Plaayful St. Maarten
By Melanie Reffes
With only a ‘welcome’ sign separating the French side from the Dutch side, the smallest territory shared by two nations in the world attracts visitors with a Caribbean vibe and European flair. Ringed by thirty-seven beaches, St. Maarten bustles from dawn to dusk with gourmet eateries, hip nightclubs and an impressive array of accommodations. Retail therapy reigns supreme here on the only island port in the Caribbean that is 100 percent duty-free. “The summer season is the ideal time to travel,” said Regina LaBega, director of tourism, St. Maarten Tourist Bureau. “Airfares are lower, hotels are offering deals and our beaches are never crowded.”
A new branding campaign plays around with the double ‘A’s’ in St. Maarten in a host of descriptions from pAAssionate and plAAyful to chAArming and glAAmorous. “This campaign allows us to highlight all the things that make St. Maarten an ideal vacation destination through words and phrases that truly represent how a traveler feels while on-island,” explained Frans Richardson, tourism commissioner.
Leading the pack on the Dutch side are the Great Bay Beach Resort and its Sonesta sibling, Maho Beach Resort. Walking distance to Philipsburg, 257-room Great Bay is one-stop-shopping with the Adventure Dive Centre, spectacular ocean views from the lobby bar, casino and three restaurants that showcase the culinary talents of Chef Iwan Hokahin. “I recommend a taste of St. Maarten to all our guests,” he says putting the finishing touches on his signature gnocchi and oxtails. “A Caribbean twist in our dishes is what our guests truly enjoy.” Visit www.sonesta.com.
Close to the airport, Sonesta Maho Beach Resort is the island’s largest property with 537 rooms, a casino, two pools, three restaurants and the Good Life Spa. Both Sonesta properties are offering room-only and all-inclusive “Summer Splash” rates starting at $154 per room through August 31st and agent FAM rates starting at $75 per room through December 19th. Visit www.sonesta.com
Between two bays, Divi Little Bay Beach Resort is letting kids stay and eat free through December 23rd. The 210-room resort has three pools, an online grocery service that stocks the in-room refrigerator prior to arrival and a resident toucan named Gizmo who happily poses for photographs. Visit www.divilittlebay.com
For clients who prefer a reliable name, Radisson St. Martin doesn’t disappoint. With an AAA Four Diamond rating (the highest awarded on the French side), the 252 room beachfront property boasts the largest zero-entry infinity pool on the island and gourmet dining par excellence at C Le. Visit www.radisson.com/stmartin
At the edge of Marigot between Simpson Bay Lagoon and the Caribbean Sea, the 144-room Hotel Beach Plaza is all about location, location, location. In addition to shuttles to the casinos and in-room Wi-Fi access, the comfortable hotel tempts with Le Corsaire restaurant and a private beach. Visit www.hotelbeachplazasxm.com.
Enveloped by fragrant gardens in Nettle Bay, Flamboyant Resort welcomes guests with Creole-designed rooms and packages that include meals, water sports and drinks. Visit www.le-flamboyant.com
For time away from the beach chair, the crafts market in Marigot is busiest on Wednesdays and Saturdays where vendors sell spices, rum and souvenirs. Note to shoppers: the best deals are in the morning as the first sale of the day means good luck to vendors.
Motion of the Ocean
With a dress code that ranges from modest on the Dutch side to au natural on the French side, a day on any of the thirty-seven beaches will remind you why you booked a vacation in the first place. Atlantic-side beaches are coveted for sailing and surfing, while the calmer waters of the Caribbean Sea are better suited for swimming and snorkeling.
With views that put postcards to shame, Guana Bay is a secluded sliver behind the Great Salt Pond. The grand-daddy of the clothing-optional beaches, Orient Bay is also de rigueur for parasailing, horseback riding and champagne cocktails at one of the many seaside bars.
12 Metre Regatta is a unique experience aboard one of three America’s Cup yachts. Crews teach novices the basics from grinding a winch to trimming a sail. Visit www.12Metre.com
The entire island is a veritable moving feast, with options ranging from roadside barbecue stands to gourmet dining. A slew of new eateries include The Different Pretzel Twist next to Holland House and the Argentinean-inspired Mooi with a delectably affordable menu of fresh fish, grilled meats and pasta.
Ask any islander about pan-fried snapper and you’ll hear about Yvette’s in the French Quarter. Folksy and inexpensive, the tiny eatery is a national treasure patronized by generations of locals. “The steamed fish is my all-time favorite,” says Frans Richardson, commissioner of tourism. “Visitors feel like locals when they experience the real food of our island.”
More local flavor can be found at Ras Bushman’s I-tal Shack, built in a tree house and painted in Rastafarian colors. The vegetarian menu is organic heaven while the reggae soundtrack is a delectable side dish. For the carnivores in the crowd, Rare is the go-to spot for a 28-ounce porterhouse and truffled mac ‘n cheese. Visit www.daretoberare.com
Get Out, Get Happy
Uber-trendy discos with plenty of pizazz keep the party going ‘til the sun comes up. New on the scene, Club 1Eleven showcases pretty people and rockin DJ’s. Atop Casino Royale in Maho, Tantra dazzles with a mirror ball that rains beams of rainbow light. Across the street, Sopranos Piano Bar salutes its namesake TV show with an Italian wine list and local musicians who belt out a roster of Sinatra tunes.
At the Red Piano Bar, the grand red piano is very grand and really red and with plenty of room for kicking up your heels, this Simpson Bay club parachutes the mojo to new heights.
Inside the Caravanserai Beach Resort, Bliss is a magnet for a funky fashionistas who belly up to the bar for oysters swimming in vodka shot glasses. A must-see for aviation aficionados, Sunset Bar is so close to the airport that locals claim they can touch the wing of a 747 as it swoops in for a landing.
Mark Your Calendar
May 16 5th Annual Boardwalk Mass in Philipsburg
May 25 – 27 9th Annual SMART
St. Maarten/St. Martin regional tradeshow
June 4 – 6 7th Annual St. Maarten Book Fair
July 2 – 4 Soualiga Drum Fest
For more information, visit www.VacationStMaarten.com